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OS (Commentary) –- 12

53 A mind (nous) which does not neglect its own secret labour

In the heart. This is the fourfold method of humility, attention, rebuttal and the Prayer of Jesus. In this chapter, the ascetic is supposed to have arrived at the continual exercise of this method without images: the guard of the mind. Here, St Hesychios does not seem to envisage the exercise of the memory of death; this may be because he is emphasizing a different aspect of the guard of the mind, the withdrawal of the senses from sensible objects.

will, together with the remaining

That is, other.

goods from

That is, read: ‘…will, together with the remaining or other goods that come from…’.

an unbroken labour of the guard,

This is the guard of the mind, the practice of the Hesychian method in the heart without images on a twenty-four-hour a day basis.

also find that the five senses of the body are idle from the evils without.

The sensible objects that are wont to be received by sense-perception into the intellect in an impassioned or even unimpassioned way. See TPL 34:

Of those things we have impassioned memories, of those same things we first accepted the objects with passion. And as many objects, again, as we accept with passion, of those objects we will have impassioned memories.[1]

Attending completely to its own familiar virtue and sobriety and wishing to revel completely in the good mental representations,

St Hesychios warned us in OS 49 and elsewhere not to have any thought at all, either irrational or reasonable, in the heart. Hence, these good mental representations must be those which come from gnosis or spiritual contemplation,[2] or even, although we doubt that St Hesychios himself intends this meaning, from the actual formula of repetitive prayer, as we have discussed the matter previously.

it does not forbear to be stolen by means of the five senses,

This is a good presentation of Evagrius’ sense in OTT 40. The first and most basic way to have a mental representation of a sensible object in your mind (or intellect) is to sense it with any or all of the five senses. The second way, of course, is to have an impassioned recollection of such an object of sense. The third way is the have a ‘mere’ unimpassioned recollection.[3] As OTT 40 indicates, all these three types of mental representations prevent the ascent of the mind to Theology. Praktike, the practical life, works on the impassioned recollections of objects of sense. Spiritual contemplations cause the ‘mere’ recollections to cease. And, here, St Hesychios is saying that delight in spiritual contemplations will make the Hesychast contract his bodily senses within himself so as to eliminate the final source of mental representations of objects of sense: the bodily senses themselves.[4]

there coming to it thoughts (logismoi) which are both material

That is, mental representations of sensible objects, which mental representations impede contemplation.

and vain;

This has three senses. First, as we saw St Macrina to say, material things are like earthen walls which prevent the sight of the higher intelligible realities, just as a roof on a hut in which a man is enclosed prevents him from seeing the stars.[5] Second, these sense-perceptions distract the Hesychast. Third, they might excite a passion.

Although in the commentary on OS 4 we suggested that the reason that St Hesychios emphasized more than Evagrius the guard of the senses was that he was addressing a less spiritually developed audience than Evagrius, here we can see that another reason is St Hesychios’ emphasis on the need to prevent distractions from the senses to the guard of the mind and to contemplation.

but, knowing their

Some of the translators treat this ‘their’ as referring to the thoughts (logismoi). We think not: St Hesychios is describing the contraction within the Hesychast of the five senses: Hesychasm is the enclosing of the bodiless mind (nous) in the bodily house of the body.[6] The reason the Hesychast contracts the five senses within himself is that in that way he avoids the ‘material and vain’ thoughts which come to him. It is the deceptive nature of the senses that the Hesychast recognizes here: the ultimate realities are those which are intelligible. Recall that in OTT 40 Evagrius says that only by being completely free of the mental representations of objects of sense can the Hesychast attain to Theology. The same principle is involved in St Hesychios here.

deceptive nature, it contracts them for the most part

Not completely.

within itself.

When the ascetic enters into the heart he will understand this. A caution is in order here. St Hesychios is discussing Hesychasm at an advanced level. It would be foolhardy and vain for the monk at an elementary stage of spiritual growth to rush into sensory deprivation and enclosure. What St Hesychios is saying depends on having the uninterrupted exercise of the immaterial war in the heart with ease, and on having arrived at the stage in which there cease to be images in the intellect—and that not on account of the withdrawal by stratagem of the demons in order to trip the ascetic up from behind by vainglory. In other words, the ascetic must be very close to dispassion in the Evagrian sense.[7]

St Hesychios, having finished his basic exposition of his method, now turns to a long series of twenty-nine chapters which are quotations from St Mark the Ascetic, St Basil the Great, St Maximos the Confessor and Evagrius. This series is interrupted twice, each time by a short series of chapters of St Hesychios’ own composition. We will provide details as we go.

OS 54–61 are from St Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law (OS 54–60) and Dispute with a Lawyer (OS 60 and 61).[8]

Let us note that in our references to the works of St Mark the Ascetic we follow the chapter numeration as given in the Philokalia,[9] but with a parallel reference to the critical edition.[10] In On the Spiritual Law, the chapter numeration is not the same in these two editions, nor the actual division of the text into chapters.

St Mark the Ascetic lived from around the second half of the Fourth Century until after 431. According to the introduction in Philokalia E to those of St Mark’s works that are included independently in the Philokalia, he had lived as a hermit and might also have been the superior of a community. However, the introduction to the critical edition of St Mark’s works clearly demonstrates that nothing is known with certainty about either St Mark’s identity or dates.[11] The editor of the critical edition, Fr de Durand, OP, however, on the basis of internal evidence does place St Mark in approximately the same period as the traditional dates given above.

Apart from the chapters of On the Spiritual Law quoted directly by St Hesychios below, St Mark has an analysis of the stages of temptation in that work. However, St Hesychios relies more on a second model of temptation that St Mark himself provides in another of his works, On Holy Baptism, a work not included in the Philokalia.[12] It is this work that St Hesychios quotes in OS 2, above, when he is providing a definition of the assault. Moreover, the model that St Hesychios follows also appears to contain elements of the model of temptation of St John of Sinai, in addition to elements of the model of Evagrius that we studied in Volume II.

The key element of St Mark’s analysis of temptation in On the Spiritual Law that is not accepted by St Hesychios, nor earlier by St John of Sinai, is the actual formulation there of the assault. In Chapter 140 of On the Spiritual Law, we read:

140 Assault is a movement of the heart without image, of the nature of a narrow mountain pass, previously occupied by the experienced.[13]

Let us first of all note that ‘narrow mountain pass’ corresponds to ‘gate of the heart’ in both St John of Sinai and St Hesychios, and that the previous occupation by the experienced of the assault in the nature of a narrow mountain pass refers to what St John of Sinai and St Hesychios have called the standing of the mind (nous) in the gate of the heart there to rebut the assault.

In St John of Sinai’s Ladder of Divine Ascent, we read:

For assault, then, the blessed [Fathers] define [to be] a mere word or image of a chance thing newly appeared, being brought into the heart.[14]

In its acceptance that the assault takes place by means of an image, this formulation of St John of Sinai is clearly more consistent with that of Evagrius and with that of St Mark in On Holy Baptism than with that of St Mark in On the Spiritual Law. It is this formulation of the assault that St Hesychios follows, as can be seen by reference to the relevant passage of OS 2:

…the one-worded appearance in the heart of some wicked object hated by God.

Let us again present the actual text of the definition of the assault in Question 11 of On Holy Baptism that St Hesychios is basing himself on in OS 2:

An assault of Satan, then, is the one-worded appearance of a wicked object…[15]

The key difference between the two formulations of the assault by St Mark is the presence or absence of an image: in On the Spiritual Law, the presence of the image is taken to be an indication that consent, and guilt for sin, has occurred, whereas the definition of the assault given in On Holy Baptism implies, with Evagrius, that the assault occurs as an image.

In Skemmata 55, Evagrius makes the following isolated remark:

55 Of the thoughts, some give a form to (morphousi) the intellect (dianoia) whereas others do not give a form to it. And those which give a form to the intellect are as many as are from sight. But those which do not give a form to the intellect are as many as occur to us from the remaining senses.

However, in Skemmata 17, Evagrius has a similar discussion of the types of mental representations that might be received by means of the various senses, and it may be that in Skemmata 55 he means ‘thought’ more in that sense than in the sense of an ‘impassioned thought (logismos) that calls to sin’. Certainly, his formal definitions of the demonic thought in OTT 25 and Skemmata 13 treat it as an image. Here is his definition in Skemmata 13:

13 The demonic thought is an image (eikon) of the sensible man, constituted in the intellect (dianoia), with which the mind (nous), set in motion in an impassioned way, says or does something lawlessly in secret towards the image (eidolon) which steals into the mind in succession to the first.

That aspect of St Mark’s analysis of temptation which both St John of Sinai and St Hesychios accept, but which appears to be lacking or unemphasized in Evagrius’ treatment in OTT 25 (although present in TPL 74 and 75), is the notion of consent. However, in On the Spiritual Law, St Mark places the moment of consent far earlier than St John, and, after him, St Hesychios. For we read in Chapter 141 of On the Spiritual Law:

141 Wherever there are images of thoughts, there consent has occurred; for the movement is without image, a guiltless assault. There is, then, he who escapes from these, as a firebrand from fire; and there is he who does not turn back until flame bursts out.[16]

What St Mark is discussing in the second sentence of OSL 141 is the rejection of the assault: in the first case, the ascetic rejects the initial imageless movement and thus does not allow the image to develop; in the second case, he accepts the assault and lets the image develop. St Mark clearly implies that accepting the imageless movement so as to allow the image to develop incurs guilt for sin. However, Evagrius taught that the initial impassioned mental representation of an object of sense was an image that was a sinless temptation,[17] and St John of Sinai and St Hesychios’ definitions of the assault given above clearly make the same assumption.

St John of Sinai continues:

Intercourse, then, is to speak together with that which has appeared, according to the passion or dispassionately.[18]

As we shall see just below, St John does not consider that this intercourse with what has just appeared necessarily implies complete guilt for sin. This, together with his definition of the assault, indicates that he does not accept that the presence of an image necessarily implies that consent has occurred.

The model of this intercourse is the conversation of Eve with the serpent in Paradise.[19]

It is not clear just what St John means here by ‘dispassionately’. Ordinarily, we consider the conversation with the thought to be impassioned, in the measure that the particular passion is strong in us. However, Eve certainly spoke with the serpent in Paradise in an unimpassioned way and for all that committed sin. Recall, moreover, that in the Ladder, St John makes use of the method of dispassionately allowing the thought into the heart there to do battle with it.[20]

Let us continue with the stages of temptation that St John defines:

Consent, then, is the impleasured nod of the soul which occurs towards that which has been seen.[21]

This is quite close to TPL 75:

75 The sin of the monk is the consent towards the forbidden pleasure of the thought.

This is the model that St Hesychios follows. This model places consent much later than does the model of St Mark in On the Spiritual Law outlined just above. For in the model followed by St Hesychios, consent occurs only after intercourse with the thought.

After consent, St Hesychios continues with deliberation between the mind (nous) and the thought how to put the sin into practice, and then with the sinful act. We have seen this in OS 43 and OS 46, above. In the commentary on OS 46, however, we noted that St Hesychios there seemed to make consent and deliberation the same thing, although we ourselves considered it necessary to separate the two stages.

St John of Sinai has a further series of stages which are consistent with those of St Mark in On the Spiritual Law, but to which St Hesychios does not refer: captivity, battle, passion and habit.

St John analyses the guilt of the ascetic—or, indeed, of any Christian—as follows: The assault is guiltless; the intercourse, not entirely; the consent, in accordance with the spiritual condition of the ascetic; the battle is the cause either of crowns of victory or of punishment; captivity, otherwise in time of prayer and otherwise in other times, otherwise when indifferent things are involved and otherwise when evil remembrances are involved. The passion is undoubtedly a matter of guilt; it is either a matter of repentance in this life or of hell in the next.[22]

When in Volume II in the commentary on OTT 25 we were remarking on Evagrius’ analysis of the inception of the demonic thought (logismos), we discussed the adequacy of Evagrius’ own analysis. We remarked on the absence of consent in his model there, and on the absence of references to the role of the passion which presses the man to sin and to the habit which makes the will less free. We can see that St John of Sinai includes these elements, especially the latter elements.[23]

St Mark also has these elements, introducing as he does in OSL 138–9 the notion of ‘prepossession (prolepsis)’:

138 When we put off every voluntary vice from the intellect, then we can battle the passions which are according to prepossession (prolepsis).

139 Prepossession (prolepsis) is the involuntary remembrance of previous vices, on the one hand being impeded from proceeding to passion by the struggler, and, on the other hand, being overthrown up to assault by the victor.[24]

Let us first remark that what St Mark means in OSL 139 is that the struggler with difficulty prevents the involuntary remembrance of previous vices from proceeding to sin in act, or at least from proceeding to a strong urge to sin, whereas the victorious ascetic has eradicated such remembrances up to assault—that is, he is so free of the involuntary remembrances as to be able to deflect the assault without difficulty at the stage of the imageless movement. This is consistent with Evagrius’ immaterial war, and seems to imply an identification, at least in part, of the Markan ‘involuntary remembrance of previous vices’ with the ‘impassioned recollection of an object of sense’ of Evagrius.

However, although St Mark’s ‘prepossession (prolepsis)’ in OSL 139 seems similar to Evagrius’ ‘impassioned recollection of an object of sense’, it does not seem to have the same significance with St Mark as the impassioned recollection with Evagrius. For in OSL 138, ‘prepossession (prolepsis)’ seems to refer more to deposits in the soul of passionate tendencies—to the passions themselves as defined by Evagrius.[25]

Evagrius viewed the impassioned recollection of an object of sense to be the result of an externally caused excitation of the ascetic’s passion.[26] Moreover, he certainly considered that the mental representation in such a recollection would be recognizable as an image and he certainly treated the event as an assault. In this he differs from St Mark in On the Spiritual Law but is quite consistent with St Mark in On Holy Baptism. It is Evagrius’ model and the model of On Holy Baptism that St John of Sinai and St Hesychios follow on this point, which would indicate that in their view ‘prepossession (prolepsis)’ would refer not to the ‘impassioned mental representation’, which would correspond to St Mark’s ‘assault’, but to a later stage of the process of temptation, in which the soul would accrete to itself as a tendency to sin the practice of many sins of the same kind. This would be closer to Evagrius’ sense of the word ‘passion’, or even to his sense of the habitual vice which can oppose our good thoughts.[27] ‘Passion’ in St Mark and in St John of Sinai, however, has more the sense of habitual sin in act or of an habitual or strong urge to sin. It is in approximately this sense that St Symeon the New Theologian uses the term in Catechism 14.[28]

All the authors agree, however, that the moment to cut off the process of temptation is at the first appearance in the intellect of the assault—whether one sees it as an imageless movement or as a mental representation of an object of sense or even as an imagination of an object of sense.

We have no way of knowing, in the present state of our knowledge of St Mark and his works, which of his two formulations of the assault was his considered, mature opinion, or whether he maintained a single point of view and the one opinion is to be taken to explain the other. However, the reason for the discrepancy between St Mark’s two formulations of the assault might be that in On the Spiritual Law, St Mark is referring primarily to temptations of the thought of fornication and intending by ‘image’ an obscene fantasy, whereas in On Holy Baptism he is referring to the assault in a more general context and whereas Evagrius developed his model of the initial impassioned mental representation of an object of sense for all the eight most general thoughts.

It is noteworthy that St Mark has a discussion of the stages of the ascetical struggle against the demon of fornication in Part 7 of the Letter to Nicholas.[29] Based on this discussion, it is possible to think that St Mark’s account in On Holy Baptism would be intended for an ascetic at a more intermediate stage of dispassion (apatheia) and that his account in On the Spiritual Law would be intended for a more advanced ascetic who was completely purified. That this might be the case can be seen from a passage in Homily 68 of St Isaac the Syrian:

…Further, are your passions set in motion through images, or through sense-perception without images, and even through remembrances without passion and thoughts, free from arousal? By these things also it is possible to know the degree wherein your soul stands.[30]

However, if St Mark and St Isaac have the same sense it can only be on the ground of common spiritual experience: St Isaac lived much later than St Mark, although it is conceivable that he read St Mark in a language that he knew. Moreover, the passage we have quoted is found in St Isaac in the immediate context of direct borrowings from the works of Evagrius, including the Kephalaia Gnostica.

The discussion in St Mark’s Letter to Nicholas also includes the expression ‘momentary disturbance (pararripismos)’, a term used by St John of Sinai in the Ladder; however, St Hesychios makes no use of this term, and we will not further discuss it.

On the three generator thoughts of OTT 1—gluttony, avarice and vainglory—both St Mark and Evagrius are in agreement, although, as we shall see below, St Mark calls them avarice, vainglory and pleasure and does not have a developed doctrine that these are the thoughts which generate all the other thoughts. In general, apart from his reference to the three generator thoughts—which could depend on a common tradition or on an indirect influence of Evagrius—there is nothing in St Mark the Ascetic that indicates a direct dependence on Evagrius. However, the Guillamonts consider that at least once St Mark quotes Evagrius (TPL G Tome I, p. 307). A similar doctrine of the three basic passions of man is already to be found in Plato’s Phaedo.[31]

Let us now look a little more carefully at the analysis of temptation given by St Mark the Ascetic in Question 11 of On Holy Baptism. Let us begin with the full quotation that begins with the definition of the assault:

An assault of Satan, then, is the one-worded appearance of a wicked object, where even the very approach to our mind (nous) occurs through our little faith. For since we have received a commandment not to take care for anything but with every guard to keep our own heart and to seek the Kingdom of the Heavens, which is within us, when the mind (nous) stands apart from the heart and from the aforesaid search, directly it gives place to the assault of the Devil and becomes receptive of the evil design. But not even then does the Devil have the authority to set our thoughts in motion, since then he would not spare us, bringing upon us by necessity every vicious conception and allowing us to think nothing good.

He has sole authority, then, to sketch the wicked objects in a ‘one-worded’ way (monologistos) in the beginnings of thought (protonoia) [i.e. in a simple, localized manner; this is Evagrius’ initial impassioned mental representation of an object of sense], so as to tempt our implanted (endiatheton) [reason (logos)], as to where it tends—towards the Devil’s design or towards the commandment of the Lord, since these things are opposed to each other. Whence, in regard to those things we love, we directly stir up our thoughts towards the pattern [i.e. the image seen in the intellect], and in an impassioned way converse in the intellect with the object which has been traced out; in regard to those things we hate, however, we are not able to pass our time with [the object which has been traced in the intellect], but we hate even the very assault.

If, however, the object [shown in the intellect], even hated, remains—for this happens—nonetheless, it receives its strength from an old prepossession (prolepsis) and not from a recent disposition. Wherefore it also stands in the place without progress and one-worded (monologistos), prevented by the disgust of the heart from advancing to ‘much thought (polunoia)’ and passion (pathos). For by nature the ‘single-faced (monoprosopos)’ appearance hated by him who is paying attention to himself does not have the possibility of dragging by violence the mind (nous) to the passion of ‘much thought (polunoia)’, unless solely by means of a passion of the heart which is towards pleasure. Thus, if we completely depart from the passion of pleasure, not even is the one-worded (monologistos) appearance of the prepossessions (prolepseis) able still to damage us even if it condemns our conscience for the sake of the security of future things. For when the mind (nous) recognizes the inactive beginning of the prepossession (prolepsis) and confesses to God the old cause, then directly this temptation also is destroyed.[32]

This is admittedly a very, very difficult passage. However, it contains all of St Hesychios’ psychology of temptation. What St Mark means is as follows: Let us suppose that we are practising stillness (hesychia): we are repeating the Prayer of Jesus and our attention is in our heart: our mind is standing in the gate of the heart ready to rebut every impassioned mental representation of an object of sense. St Mark is giving a very subtle psychological analysis of the impassioned mental representation as we experience it while we are in this state. What he is saying is that, when it first begins, the impassioned mental representation always has certain characteristics. He has named the major characteristic ‘one-worded (monologistos)’. What this very unusual term means is that in our consciousness we experience at its inception the impassioned mental representation as being on the one hand simple and small and on the other hand localized within the space of our consciousness. That is, we experience the ‘presentation’ by the demon of an object of sense as a simple, small image localized somewhere in our mental space.

Now, in this passage, St Mark is saying that this is the assault, and all authors agree that it is guiltless and unavoidable. It is a matter of an external demonic temptation. However, St Mark points out that we are tempted because of our little faith, evidently because we are not keeping our mind (nous) in our heart exclusively to seek the Kingdom of the Heavens, but have departed from there.[33] Now, and here is the important point, since we are baptized Christians, members of the Orthodox Church, the Devil has no authority over us to force us to think about the object which has appeared as a simple, small, localized image somewhere in our mental space. For, St Mark says, in that case the Devil would force us to think continually about evil things and never allow us to think about good things. The Devil, says St Mark, has authority only to sketch the wicked object, the impassioned mental representation, in the simple and localized manner that we have just explained, and that so as to tempt our free will as to whether it tends towards the impassioned mental representation or towards the commandment of God, which two things are opposed the one to the other.

We can see here just how deeply the model of the rejection of temptation in order to keep the commandments of God enters into the spiritual ascesis of this school.

So we have a demonically sown impassioned mental representation which has the character of being a simple, small image localized somewhere in our mental space. Now if the passion is strong in us, says St Mark, we ourselves will then stir up our thoughts towards that impassioned mental representation, that simple, small, localized image of an object of sense, and converse with it. If the passion is weak in us, or if the virtue that corresponds to the passion is strong in us, then we will hate the impassioned mental representation and will not spend our time with it.

St Mark now introduces a special case. We may hate the impassioned mental representation but it may still remain in our mental space without departing. This does happen, he says, but is due to an old prepossession (prolepsis), a tendency to sin caused by an old sin of the same kind, and not to a recent disposition to sin. However, since we hate the impassioned mental representation, it remains in the form in which it first appeared: a simple, small image localized somewhere in our mental space. It is prevented by the disgust we have for it in our hearts from progressing to ‘much thought (polunoia) and passion (pathos)’. Now what this means is that, as we experience the temptation in our consciousness, if we do not block the evolution of the impassioned mental representation by this hatred for it, then the impassioned mental representation will evolve from being a simple, small, localized image somewhere in our field of consciousness to a state of spreading throughout our whole field of consciousness as a multitude of thoughts all of which are related to the original impassioned mental representation—the original ‘idea’ let us say. This is what St Mark means when he says that, blocked by our heartfelt disgust for it, the impassioned mental representation stands in the place—the place in our field of consciousness where it first appeared—‘without progress and one-worded (monologistos)’. The ‘without progress’ means that we have blocked the initial impassioned mental representation and not allowed it to progress to a state of our having many thoughts about it. The ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ means that the mental representation remains a simple, small image localized somewhere in our field of consciousness. We can freeze the impassioned mental representation in the place it appeared. Now the next thing that St Mark says is that the reason that we can block the initial impassioned mental representation in this way—halt it, freeze it in its tracks in our very thinking processes—is that by nature the impassioned mental representation does not have the possibility of dragging our mind by violence towards the later stage of ‘much thought (polunoia)’ unless by means of a passion towards pleasure that is in the heart. However, St Mark says, if we completely depart from this passion towards pleasure—evidently, if we completely reject the temptation—then the initial impassioned mental representation is unable to damage us even if we experience a twinge of conscience, which has the salutary effect of preserving us unharmed in future temptations. St Mark then goes on to say that when the mind recognizes the frozen impassioned mental representation—frozen because we hate it; remaining in the field of consciousness because of an old predisposition to sin—then if we confess the old cause of the predisposition to sin—the old sin, evidently—in prayer to God, then even this frozen impassioned mental representation is immediately destroyed.

The first very important thing in St Mark’s account is the emphasis on the simple nature of the initial impassioned mental representation and on the ability of the ascetic to block its evolution to a state of there being ‘much thought (polunoia)’ about it in his mind. That is, St Mark is saying that the transition that St Hesychios defines from the assault to the intercourse with the impassioned mental representation is controllable by the ascetic. We have seen what St Mark considers to be the proper way to freeze the initial impassioned mental representation as a simple, small, localized image: the hatred in the heart that the ascetic feels for it. St Hesychios modifies this: he follows Evagrius and teaches the use of rebuttal. In both cases, however, the authors are referring precisely to the use of the temper, the use of anger, against the demon in the manner ‘according to nature’ that Evagrius asserts he learned from St Makarios the Egyptian:[34] this is a teaching of the Fathers of Egypt expressed in a variety of ways by a variety of authors. But we can now understand the passages in OS that say that the nature of the rebuttal is to freeze the impassioned mental representation or to block its evolution: St Hesychios is talking just about what St Mark is talking about, but rather than refer to hatred in the heart for the impassioned mental representation, he refers to Evagrian rebuttal.

We can infer from St Mark’s emphasis on the hatred which blocks the evolution of the assault that, strictly speaking, rebuttal is not in itself necessary: it is not so much the issuance of the rebuttal that blocks the evolution of the ‘one-worded’ image as the hatred for it that we have in our hearts—our act of psychological rejection of the initial impassioned mental representation or ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ image. However, it should be remarked that St Mark and St Hesychios are both speaking to a very high level of ascetical attainment: while it is true that the non-verbal movement of interior rejection by the ascetic of the initial impassioned mental representation may be enough, even without rebuttal, to block the evolution of the ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ image to the state of ‘much thought (polunoia)’, the ascetic is assumed to be at a very high level of attainment in order to be able to succeed in this.

Next, in the commentary both previously and below, we compare the evolution of the ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ assault to the state of ‘much thought (polunoia)’ to the spreading of a noxious gas throughout the intellect. What must be understood is this: the evolution of the ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ assault to ‘much thought (polunoia)’ can be observed by the ascetic, and it is that evolution—which occurs because the ascetic has neither hated the ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ image nor issued a rebuttal—that has the specific character that we ourselves compare to the spreading of a noxious gas: the ascetic can observe the gradual transition of the assault from a localized ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ image to the state of ‘much thought (polunoia)’ as a spreading[35] of the demonic thought throughout his field of consciousness or intellect (dianoia) just in the way that a visible gas gradually spreads through a room when released from a nozzle in the wall.

The next very important thing in St Mark’s account is his explanation of how to dispel the image which remains because of an old ‘prepossession (prolepsis)’ but which does not evolve into ‘much thought (polunoia)’ on account of our hatred for it. St Hesychios does not explicitly follow St Mark’s model, and nowhere mentions ‘prepossession (prolepsis), but his remarks indicate that he has assimilated this model into his own way of thinking. For we can understand St Hesychios’ insistence on the necessity of the invocation that causes the impassioned mental representation to dissipate to be a summary of what St Mark is saying on this matter. That is, St Mark has a complicated analysis of why the ascetic’s hatred freezes the initial impassioned mental representation without, however, causing it to dissipate; he then counsels confession to God, in prayer, of the old cause of the ‘prepossession (prolepsis)’, in order to dispel the impassioned mental representation. Consistently in OS, St Hesychios counsels the invocation for exactly the same purpose of causing the impassioned mental representation which has been frozen by the rebuttal to dissipate, but he speaks in a summary fashion which ignores the details of St Mark’s analysis. Moreover, in OS, the invocation is assimilated to the repetition of the formula of the Prayer of Jesus. We see this in many chapters of OS.

St Mark does not in the passage of On Holy Baptism under consideration continue his analysis of the stages of temptation beyond the stage of intercourse.

It is well to emphasize that although St Hesychios makes much use of this analysis of temptation of St Mark the Ascetic, he has married it to the analysis of temptation of Evagrius Pontikos that we studied in Volume II. We have seen this in St Hesychios’ retention of Evagrian rebuttal here, and we will also see it in other chapters of OS.

Let us now turn to the quotations from St Mark that St Hesychios has placed in OS:

54 Remain in the intellect (dianoia) and you will not toil in temptations. Departing from there, endure patiently what comes upon [you].

OSL 163.[36]

Note the similarity of this passage to St Mark’s remark in the passage of On Holy Baptism just quoted, that we are tempted because we do not keep our mind (nous) in our heart to seek after the Kingdom of the Heavens.

55 Just as bitter absinthe benefits those who have a bad appetite, thus it profits those who have evil ways to suffer evil.

OSL 115.[37]

St Hesychios has omitted the second half of St Mark’s chapter: ‘For the medicines prepare the former to have a good state of health, the latter to repent.’

56 If you do not want to suffer evil, neither want to do evil, because the latter unchangeably follows the former. ‘For what each one sows, that also will he reap.’ [Gal. 6, 7.] Therefore, voluntarily sowing, and involuntarily reaping, what is mean, we are obliged to marvel at the justice of God.

OSL 116–17.[38]

St Hesychios has inserted ‘Therefore’ to tie the two chapters together.

The first quotation, OSL 163, is in part an exhortation to remain in the intellect, tantamount here to an exhortation to sobriety as attention and to sobriety as the immaterial war. The second part of the first quotation introduces a theme dear to St Mark: the involuntary difficulties that we experience are divine retribution and therapy for our previous faults. That theme is amplified in the second chapter that St Hesychios has selected, OSL 115, where the involuntary difficulties that we experience are compared to absinthe, a bitter drug with beneficial effects.

The second quotation, composed of two chapters of St Mark, OSL 116 and 117, further explains the role of involuntary evils in the economy of salvation of each man. This is a central element of St Mark’s notion, based on the Gospel, of the inexorable spiritual law.

St Hesychios places the notion of the three generator or primary passions next:

57 The mind (nous) is made utterly blind by these three passions: avarice, I say, vainglory and pleasure.

OSL 101.[39]

We think that this is not a borrowing by St Mark from Evagrius but that it reflects a common tradition on which Evagrius drew in composing OTT 1.[40] We have discussed these three passions in Volume II in our commentaries on TPL and OTT. Note that, here, St Mark uses ‘passions’ in the same sense as Evagrius.

‘Pleasure’ should be taken as a synonym for the passion of fornication. There does not appear to be a developed doctrine in St Mark which connects these three passions to the remaining five most general passions the way we saw in OTT 1. However, the primary role of these three passions is implicit in what St Mark is saying in the passages quoted here by St Hesychios.[41]

58 Gnosis and faith, the comrades of our nature, on account of nothing else than on account of those have been blunted.

OSL 103.[42]

‘Gnosis’ here does seem to mean ‘intuitive knowledge of divine things’ in the same sense as Evagrius uses the term (although perhaps not with the full Evagrian spectrum of meaning).

‘Comrades of our nature’ suggests that St Mark also views gnosis and faith as natural goods implanted in human nature. St Mark seems to mean that the fallen Adam, or fallen man, by means of the three passions of avarice, vainglory and pleasure, has lost the clarity of Adam’s spiritual condition before the Fall, which St Mark describes as gnosis and faith, and that these three passions have also blunted that gnosis and faith which still remain in man as natural goods after the Fall.

59 Temper and anger and wars and murders and the whole catalogue of remaining evils on account of those have prevailed exceedingly among men.

OSL 104.[43]

This is the whole sad story of the human race since Adam fell, as detailed in the Old and New Testaments.

St Mark is saying that all these evils arise on account of avarice, vainglory and pleasure.

St Hesychios now passes to another Markan theme:

60 He who does not know the truth neither is able to believe truly. For according to nature, gnosis precedes faith.

OSL 110.[44]

This must mean gnosis in the sense of intellectual understanding, not in the sense of the intuitive knowledge that arises from contemplation that we referred to above.

The remainder of OS 60 begins the quotation from Chapter 8 of Dispute With a Lawyer by St Mark that is continued into the next chapter of OS.[45]

Those things which have been said in Scripture have been said not so that we understand them only,

This is mere gnosis taken as intellectual understanding.

but so that we do them.

In Dispute With a Lawyer, just before the lines quoted by St Hesychios, St Mark has a line which clarifies just what he means:

For having made use of the introductory gnosis of the Scriptures not towards works (erga) but towards ostentation, they were deprived of the gnosis that is according to the operation of the Holy Spirit.[46]

For St Mark, there are two forms of gnosis: an introductory form which we might call intellectual, or even scholarly, knowledge of the Scriptures; and an advanced form which is due to the operation of the Holy Spirit, what we have already encountered in Evagrius as the intuitive gnosis that arises from contemplation.

Moreover, elsewhere, St Mark explains the connection between the practice of the commandments of Christ—for they are contained in Scripture; and that is the importance of the introductory gnosis of Scripture, that we learn the commandments of Christ—and this second, intuitive gnosis. He makes his meaning clear, among other places in his works, in OSL 190:[47]

190 The Lord has been hidden in his own commandments and is found by those who seek him in proportion [to their practice of those commandments].

In other words, according to St Mark’s doctrine, we read the Scriptures to learn the commandments of Christ and we meet Christ by keeping those commandments: Christ is hidden in his commandments and it is the actual practice of his commandments that makes us meet Christ spiritually. This doctrine is quite consistent with the word of our Lord recorded in St John’s Gospel, according to which he who loves Jesus is he who keeps his commandments, and he who keeps Jesus’ commandments is he to whom Jesus will manifest himself.[48] This doctrine of St Mark, which is quite similar to the doctrine of Evagrius that the practical life is the keeping of the commandments through which the ascetic attains to dispassion, is, in St Mark’s system, the theological basis of the attainment by the ascetic to the higher, intuitive gnosis that comes by the operation of the Holy Spirit. We can now understand the import of the following exhortation of St Mark:

61 Let us therefore begin the work.

This chapter of OS continues the extract from Chapter 8 of Dispute With a Lawyer.

‘The work’: This is the work of keeping the commandments of Christ.

For thus progressing in an orderly way, we will find that hope in God and certain faith and inner gnosis

‘Inner gnosis’: Contemplation with the plerophoria (inner spiritual assurance) given by the Holy Spirit. This is the higher gnosis that St Mark refers to in the passage that we ourselves just quoted above from earlier in Dispute With a Lawyer.

In the critical edition of St Mark’s works, this part of the chapter reads:

For thus progressing in an orderly way, we will find that not only hope in God but also certain faith and unhypocritical love and the freedom from rancour and fraternal charity and continence and patient endurance and inner gnosis…[49]

We have italicized the words omitted in OS. We do not know if St Hesychios made the deletions or whether it is a matter of the textual transmission of OS: the apparatus of the critical edition does not show the omissions to be found in the manuscript tradition proper to St Mark’s works. The rest of the passage of OS follows the critical edition.

and redemption from temptations and gifts of charisms and confession from the heart

This refers to confession before the Lord in prayer, not especially to the Mystery (sacrament) of Confession, although that certainly is not excluded.

and prolonged tears

This is a charism of the Holy Spirit, a fruit of sobriety and not the ‘fruit’ of impassioned, sentimental or emotionally ill states of excess.

are gained by the faithful by means of prayer (proseuche),

Remember, this is St Mark speaking, so his terminology may not correspond exactly to that of St Hesychios, nor his orientation. St Hesychios himself does not emphasize tears but sobriety.

There are two senses in which these things are gained by prayer: these things are the fruit of a life of persistence in prayer, even if they are not specifically demanded of the Lord in that prayer; and they are received when the ascetic asks for them of the Lord in prayer.[50]

and not only these things, then, but also patient endurance in the afflictions which come upon [us]

A central concern and theme of St Mark.

and sincere forgiveness of the neighbour and full knowledge of the spiritual law and finding of the justice of God and the descent of the Holy Spirit and the giving of spiritual treasures and all things, as many as God promised to provide to faithful men both here and in the Age to come. And, in general, it is impossible for the soul to appear according to the image of God, if not by means of the charism

The critical edition has ‘by means of the grace’ instead of ‘by means of the charism’.[51] The difference is a matter of three letters, and the text of the critical edition is to be preferred on the basis of sense.

of God and of the faith of the man who remains in the intellect (dianoia)

As we have noted above, for St Mark, to remain in the intellect is to prosecute the immaterial war (to seek after the Kingdom of the Heavens) with the mind (nous) in the heart—according to St Mark’s own system surely.

with much humility and unwavering prayer (proseuche).

This is a summary of St Mark’s doctrine. St Hesychios has used it here as an exhortation to the practice of his own method of sobriety—the state of remaining in the intellect with much humility and unwavering prayer and the practice of the immaterial war. St Hesychios now stops the quotations from St Mark and inserts a three-chapter series of his own composition, on prayer and humility. Given where St Hesychios has stopped the quotations from St Mark, his chapters have a perfect thematic continuity with those of St Mark.

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[1] We understand ‘accept’ here not in the sense of an interpersonal transaction, although that certainly is not excluded, but as ‘accept into the mind or heart the sense-perception of’.

[2] OTT 40.

[3] For Evagrius’ distinctions among the mental representations introduced by the senses and the memory, see the Skemmata, especially Skemmata 55 and 17.

[4] In Skemmata 17, Evagrius also introduces the mental representations that arise from the bodily constitution: these would be handled by bodily ascesis, especially fasting.

[5] See Chapter I of Volume I.

[6] Ladder G Step 27, 5 = Ladder E Step 27, 6; quoted by St Hesychios in OS 148, below.

[7] See Volume II.

[8] This information can for the most part be found in Philokalia E, from which we have taken most of the details, as also from Kirchmeyer.

[9] Philokalia G.

[10] Mark.

[11] Mark.

[12] Mark Volume I, pp. 296 ff.

[13] Philokalia G; = Chapter 141 in Mark. In Mark, ‘previously’ is deleted, the critical apparatus showing that it is present in three manuscripts, two dating from the Eleventh Century and one from the Fourteenth Century.

[14] Ladder G Step 15, 73; = Ladder E Step 15, 74.

[15] Mark Volume I, p. 366, ll. 24–5.

[16] Henceforth: Philokalia G OSL 141; = Mark OSL 142. Note that, here, ‘firebrand’ is the piece of wood before it has caught fire.

[17] See TPL 6.

[18] Loc. cit.

[19] Cf. Gen. 3, 1–5.

[20] See OS 44, above.

[21] Loc. cit.

[22] Loc. cit. Note that ‘passion’ has a somewhat different meaning in this passage of St John of Sinai than ‘passion’ as we have understood it in Evagrius: here, in St John, ‘passion’ is sin in act, even habitual sin in act.

[23] Taking account, however, of differences in terminology between St John of Sinai and Evagrius.

[24] Philokalia G; = Mark OSL 139–40.

[25] The notion of ‘prepossession (prolepsis)’ in St Mark seems quite close to the term as used by the Epicureans. Consider this remark by P. H. De Lacey in his article ‘Epicurus’ in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy: ‘…[R]epeated [sense] experiences preserved by memory give rise to “anticipations” (prolepseis), which are equivalent to general notions or concepts.’ (Encyclopedia Volume 3, p. 3.) However, the term ‘prepossession (prolepsis)’ was also used by the Stoics. It seems that St Mark, whether by himself or through other ascetics we do not know, has used the notion of the repeated sense-perception which gives rise to a deposit in the soul—in the case of Epicurus, to a concept—to express the idea that the repeated practice of a sin gives rise to a deposit in the soul which manifests itself as an involuntary remembrance of the sin that urges the ascetic to repeat that sin.

[26] We ignore here Evagrius’ refinements in OTT and the Skemmata. See Volume II, commentary on TPL 39 and OTT 31, inter alia.

[27] See the commentary on OTT 31.

[28] Symeon Volume II, p. 208, ll. 61–2; = Oration 26, translated as Homily 65 in Zagoraios.

[29] Philokalia E p. 153; = Mark Volume II, p. 128, l. 10–p. 130, l. 32.

[30] Isaac p. 332.

[31] Plato Volume I, 68b8–68c3.

[32] Mark Volume I, p. 366, l. 24–p. 368, l. 57.

[33] This is reminiscent of the passage of St John of Damascus that we discussed at the beginning of Chapter V of Volume I concerning the contemplations of Adam and Eve in Paradise.

[34] TPL 93.

[35] This is St Hesychios’ own term, borrowed from St Mark. See OS 44.

[36] Philokalia G; = Mark OSL 164.

[37] Philokalia G; = Mark OSL 117.

[38] Philokalia G; = Mark OSL 118–19.

[39] Philokalia G; = Mark OSL 104.

[40] As we have already remarked, the doctrine can already be found in Plato: Plato Volume I, 68b8–68c3.

[41] For their role in Evagrius as generator thoughts which produce all the remaining thoughts, see OTT 1. The Skemmata has a somewhat different analysis of the generator thoughts; concerning that analysis, see the commentary on OTT 1.

[42] Philokalia G; = Mark OSL 105.

[43] Philokalia G; = Mark OSL 106.

[44] Philokalia G; = Mark OSL 112.

[45] Mark Volume II, p. 48, l. 17–p. 50, l. 34.

[46] Mark Volume II, p. 48, ll. 12–14.

[47] = Mark OSL 191.

[48] Cf. John 14, 21.

[49] Mark.

[50] Cf. Matt. 7, 7.

[51] Mark.


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